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Russia’s Shadow Oil Tanker Fleet Causes 50 Maritime Accidents

A report from Allianz SE highlights the serious environmental and safety risks posed by a burgeoning "shadow fleet" of oil tankers carrying sanctioned Russian crude. Over the past three years, as international sanctions on Russian oil and gas exports have tightened due to its invasion of Ukraine, a significant number of older, under-regulated vessels have emerged to maintain the flow of these exports. These tankers, often operating without proper insurance and outside international regulatory frameworks, present substantial hazards in key maritime chokepoints.

The shadow fleet, however, is not unique to Russia. Countries like Iran and Venezuela have similarly employed such vessels to circumvent sanctions and sustain their oil exports. Estimates place the size of this shadow fleet between 600 and 1,400 tankers, accounting for approximately 20% of the global crude oil tanker fleet, Allianz SE said.

One major concern is the condition of these vessels. Many are likely poorly maintained and may not have undergone the necessary inspections to ensure their seaworthiness. These tankers frequently engage in hazardous practices such as ship-to-ship transfers in open waters and deactivating AIS transponders to conceal their movements and identities.

To date, there have been at least 50 reported incidents involving these shadow fleet tankers, including fires, engine failures, collisions, loss of steerage, and oil spills. These incidents often impose significant costs on governments or other vessels' insurers when they are caught in the crossfire.

Justus Heinrich, Global Product Leader Marine Hull at Allianz Commercial, emphasized the longevity of the shadow fleet issue: "As long as there are sanctions on countries like Russia and Iran, the shadow fleet looks here to stay. Given the age of the vessels in the shadow fleet, safety is a big concern. Often these vessels are at the end of their operational lives and are used in a high-risk business."

The risks associated with the shadow fleet are multifaceted. Older vessels are more prone to mechanical failures and accidents, leading to potential environmental disasters such as oil spills. The lack of proper insurance and regulatory oversight means that the financial burden of these incidents often falls on external parties, exacerbating the impact on the maritime industry and affected regions.

By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com

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